We'll see | Matt Zimmerman

a potpourri of mirth and madness

Quick quote: population growth

This is too long for identi.ca and Twitter, but too good to pass up:

“It’s no coincidence that most of those who are obsessed with population
growth are post-reproductive wealthy white men: it’s about the only
environmental issue for which they can’t be blamed.”

Quote from Stop blaming the poor. It’s the wally yachters who are burning the planet in the Guardian.

(via Kevin Smith)


Written by Matt Zimmerman

September 29, 2009 at 00:02

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

24 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Do you think that modern farming practices contribute to our troubles? Do you think that if we quit using modern farming practices that we could effectively feed 6-7 billion? (Here’s a hint, the answer is no.)

    Overconsuption is a problem. Pretending that having a

    Do you really believe that none of our troubles would ease if we dropped the global population by several billion?


    September 29, 2009 at 01:55

  2. Exactly. What problem of modern or not modern humanity could not be attributed to rich white men? Or any white males for that matter, their oppression of others scaled only by their financial means. Certainly the world would be a better place if they were put in theirs.


    September 29, 2009 at 01:55

  3. the problem isn’t overpopulation in itself; it’s resource overconsumption and waste production, and overpopulation is an exacerbating influence on both of these.

    In particular, wealthy white men can and should be pointed to as particularly egregious consumers of resources and producers of waste, and their offspring are likely to be so as well. So i don’t see why we can’t blame them for these problems.

    One way to start addressing part of the problem is to get wealthy white men to stop breeding in the first place, well before they reach “post-reproductive” age naturally. VHEMT does a good job of laying out an argument in language that even white men can understand:


    Daniel Kahn Gillmor

    September 29, 2009 at 02:51

  4. This casual racism and sexism before a post complaining about sexism….

    Hmm, irony doesn’t really cover it.


    September 29, 2009 at 08:41

    • Simon:

      This isn’t casual racism and sexism: it’s a direct observation that people with more power in the world consume more resources and generate more waste than people with less power; not really a surprise.

      Or are you claiming that wealthy white men are not disproportionately powerful in the world today?

      Daniel Kahn Gillmor

      September 29, 2009 at 14:01

      • Reread the first sentence of the report.

        It isn’t even accurate the people who’ve achieved most in dealing with population growth are the Chinese government (although I’m not sure about their methods), who were largely ethnic Chinese.

        Although I’m curious what he regards as post reproductive, as short of castration most men can father children at any age past puberty.

        Such a gross generalisation is racist. If I said that poor black men were obsessed with pedophiles, you’d think I was weird, racist or demand a lot of evidence. This piece starts with an equally silly generalisation.

        Bringing race (or gender) into the question is plain daft, as contributions to global warming depend on what you do, not the colour of your skin.


        September 29, 2009 at 18:00

        • The first sentence of the linked article reads:

          It’s no coincidence that most of those who are obsessed with population growth are post-reproductive wealthy white men

          This is a different statement than “most post-reproductive wealthy white men are obsessed with population growth”. It also makes no claims that post-reproductive wealthy white men have been particularly effective in dealing with the problem.

          I agree that the article is lacking in documentation of the claim that wealthy white men are disproportionately represented in the population-obsession scene, though.

          Also, i feel i should point out that vasectomies are distinctly different from castration, though they both effectively sterilize the recipient. Please don’t encourage people to conflate the two. Vasectomies are cheap, quick, heal rapidly, and have no effect on the recipient other than infertility.

          Every man should get one, especially wealthy white ones!

          (compared to the majority of the world, i am wealthy; i am also a white man; i have never had any progeny, and i had myself sterilized 6 years ago; i say this both as a point of reference (a wealthy white man concerned about population pressure), and to explain that i am not just talking the talk)

          Daniel Kahn Gillmor

          September 29, 2009 at 18:18

          • When did sentences stop with a colon?


            September 29, 2009 at 23:53

    • I think you might want to look up the definitions of those words. Really.

      Matt Zimmerman

      September 29, 2009 at 18:28

  5. The article in question mentions the poorest billion people in the world contribute little to environmental problems.

    If those people and their children were happy to maintain that standard of living then the article would have a point. But it’s more reasonable to assume that everyone wants a good standard of living – for their children if not for themself.

    If we define a good standard of living as having adequate health-care (EG equivalent to Medicare in Australia), clean water and food, and clean clothes that are in good condition (IE replacing clothes when they get holes) then a significant increase in the world’s resource usage would be required. Note that a significant portion of the population in the US does not have a good standard of living by my definition.

    Railing about luxury boats and planes doesn’t make much sense from an environmental perspective (it’s really a small portion of the amount of fuel used). The fact that it has been proved that paying people bonuses doesn’t increase productivity in any job that requires thinking is a significant issue, as is the fact that most large salaries are entirely disconnected from job performance (see Sol Trujillo as a classic example).

    Also the issue of rich people encouraging population control does not apply to all rich people. It seems that most of the rich people in Australia have invested heavily based on the idea of population growth. They want Australia’s population to double over the next few decades to push up land prices, to cause the development of new coal power plants, to introduce nuclear power to Australia, and to enable the development of more toll roads.

    In most cases rich people depend on cheap labour. Increasing the population forces labour prices down, so there should be a general trend towards the rich wanting population increases.

    Russell Coker

    September 29, 2009 at 12:40

    • The poorest billion contribute little to global warming, not little to environmental problems.

      On the contrary the poor are often forced into means of production that are not sustainable in order to satisfy basic needs. Slash and burn farming is a classic example.


      September 29, 2009 at 18:08

    • I don’t see why we can’t accept that these are all legitmate environmental and social issues.

      Excessive consumption by the super-wealthy is a real environmental problem.

      Reproduction by the super-wealthy (multiplied, as it is, by their overconsumption) is also a real environmental problem.

      Resource inequality is a real social problem.

      Given resource inequality, reproduction by the extremely poor represents an environmental problem, but not extremely huge.

      If we want to address inequality, though, then reproduction by everyone becomes a severe environmental problem.

      It’s not an either/or situation. These are all legitimate concerns, and they are not in opposition to each other.

      Daniel Kahn Gillmor

      September 29, 2009 at 18:52

    • Unfortunately one of our biggest problems in Australia is that when the population increases our cities increase in area. We should be building high rises rather than expanding out into the forrests, removing habitat. But we have a culture of all wanting our own homes and gardens.

      Not only that but making wider cities means longer commute distances and hence more fuel burnt. Improving public transport systems isn’t economical either when population densities are so low.

      At some point this culture has got to change for our own survival.


      September 30, 2009 at 02:29

    • The article in question cites a “yacht” that uses 3400L of petrol per hour when running at speed. How many hours per month might such a boat be running at speed, and how many of them might there be per country? If there are a dozen of them in the UK and they are run at speed for an average of 30 hours per month (which seems unlikely) then they would probably use less fuel than a single rush hour traffic jam in London.

      The article in question only references a single white man (Jams Lovelock) who would not be called rich by most people. He is successful at his work, famous, and probably has more money than me. But I doubt that he could afford one of those luxury yachts even if he wanted one.

      It also seems strange that an article which rails against rich white men wanting to damage the environment with luxury yachts but who want to reduce the population references only one white man who wants a population reduction – and that man is totally against carbon emissions.

      It’s a tabloid article, written to get attention without regard to factual support or even having much of a point.

      Russell Coker

      October 1, 2009 at 05:00

  6. I really do think that this is a racist and sexist way of putting it, not just to “white men” but to everyone else as well for assuming that they aren’t in the same social category. It’s an unnecessary piece of stereotyping which could easily be avoided by using just “rich”.

    Re the article: Both sides have a problem, which they fix in their own ways. Poorer people have more children to help them survive, while richer ones use vast amounts of resources in a mission to make themselves “happy”. If these resources were instead spent ensuring that poorer people didn’t NEED to have the kids, everyone would be better off.


    September 30, 2009 at 02:32

    • Again, please double check the words “racist” and “sexist”. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.

      Matt Zimmerman

      September 30, 2009 at 08:15

      • Reading the definitions given by define: sexist and define: sexist in Google, the main point is that of discrimination. My main point is probably actually that it invites prejudice, which is a slightly different concept and leads to discrimination. Maybe it would have been better if I had used that instead.

        My main issue is that the writer uses words which are not neutral and lead to his argument starting from a compromised position. I really wish people would not base arguments on peoples surface appearance but rather their cultural standings. It’s similar to when people assume that all guys are worse at multitasking, or all girls are weaker than guys etc etc.

        If people started an argument about people who couldn’t think about two things at once with “It’s no co-incidence that those who are uncoordinated, white guys, have problems talking while working” I’d have a lot of problems accepting the rest of their arguments. It’s unfair on those who are male and coordinated, and unfair on those who are other sexes and are not. If they instead talked about people who couldn’t do two things at once, then it would be a lot easier to take them seriously.


        September 30, 2009 at 10:07

        • Regardless, you can’t deny that almost all of the problems in this world, and certainly the most institutionalized ones, are cause by white males, either directly or through willful disregard. THEY are the problem, and Matt deserves credit for calling out those that are not only white males but rich, which thereby increases their potential for damage to society.

          Again, the world would be a better place if they all were put in theirs.


          October 1, 2009 at 03:47

          • Lemonshark: What place would you suggest for Mark Shuttleworth? He’s white, male, and by far the richest person I’ve ever met.

            I’m sure I could find some other examples of rich white men who do more good than harm if I tried.

            Russell Coker

            October 1, 2009 at 04:49

  7. […] Shamelessly reproduced from Matt Zimmerman’s post. […]

  8. […] Shamelessly reproduced from Matt Zimmerman’s post. […]

  9. The last I checked, we produce about twice as much food as necessary to feed everyone in the world. There’s enormous waste, before we take into consideration whether we could produce the same amount of food with more efficient and sustainable methods.

    There’s a general problem with overproduction, and the problem isn’t so much the billions who work very hard and make do with much less than they produce. It’s with the people at the top of the heap who don’t see any problem with colossal waste. The trouble with the giant yachts isn’t (necessarily) that the yachts are a major problem in themselves. It’s that those who own and operate the yachts are willing to engage in grotesque displays of waste.

    Consider the problem of “planned obsolescence” — certainly an issue relevant to the free software community. We have a global economy based on the fallacy of the broken window, in which waste is profitable.

    We solved the problem of hunger about ten thousand years ago, with the invention of agriculture. Poverty is a weapon.

    Brian Vaughan

    October 5, 2009 at 19:14

    • Can you cite a reference for the claim that we produce twice as much food as is needed? I suspect that such claims would be based on the idea of using all the corn and grain that is used for feeding cows and chickens as human food.

      The environmental impact of commercial production of meat for food is enormous. If the majority of the population were to reduce their consumption of meat to levels that were more common 100+ years ago then it would make more of a difference to the environment than eliminating all the luxury yachts.

      The current meat production process starts with producing excessive amounts of corn and grain for feeding the animals (which takes lots of fuel for farm machinery and fertiliser). Farming the animals also takes some fuel – although less fuel is used if the animals are kept in inhumane conditions (squash them in a tiny cage and you don’t have to drive around to find them).

      Then meat products need to be brought to the market faster, stored at lower temperatures (which takes a huge amount of energy in hot countries like Australia), and then discarded sooner if they aren’t bought. The risk of getting sick from eating vegetables that have been kept for too long is quite small. The risk from bad meat is much greater.

      If the typical Australian house had 1-2 chickens (for which there is adequate room in the typical backyard) and dinner was not comprised of 50% meat then that would make a significant improvement.

      A few people who spend a weekend on a luxury yacht make no real difference to the population fuel use. A large number of people who incorrectly believe that a 4WD or SUV is an appropriate vehicle to drive children to school is a much bigger problem.

      The only way the small number of rich people make a big difference is when corporations promote products and practices that are bad for the environment. Meat consumption seems largely driven by marketting. The farming industry promotes the false idea that children won’t be healthy unless they eat meat. Then parents force their children to eat meat and learn to like it.


      The problem of hunger can NEVER be solved until the population is stabilised. As much as the food production is increased the population can increase to grow it. Reverend Malthus worked this out 200 years ago.

      Russell Coker

      October 6, 2009 at 04:29

      • Russell, I don’t remember the source for that (admittedly, suspiciously round) number — a nonprofit’s Website, years ago. As I recall, a lot of it was the grains used for feeding livestock, just as you suggest. There is also enormous waste of food at many levels of food production and consumption in wealthy regions. I grew up in an agricultural area, and I remember vividly looking out the school bus window as we drove past miles of ditches piled high with rotting vegetables.

        In general, I agree with most of what you said. My intended point about the rich and the yachts was that their willingness to indulge in extreme personal waste is indicative of their general lack of concern with waste — and those are the people who have the most influence on social policies.

        I strongly disagree about Malthus, however. On my last rereading of his essay on population, my understanding was that he was arguing, explicitly, that the absolute limit of the mean standard of living had already been reached and passed, that poverty was a direct result of the carrying capacity of the Earth having already been exceeded, and the upshot, that any effort to alleviate poverty would result in population increases, declining living standards, and increased poverty.

        Since living standards and population have both increased since Malthus’s time, his immediate point was clearly wrong. More generally, he misunderstood the nature of production. Since the invention of agriculture, civilization — as in, the social organization of cities — has been based upon the fact that individuals are capable of producing more than they consume. Improvements in technology are best understood as multipliers of production, and while consumption has generally increased, production has increased more rapidly.

        Obviously, that cannot continue forever, and achieving sustainable economic policies are clearly very important. However, it’s generally known now that, contrary to Malthus, increasing individual wealth tends to reduce the rate of population growth, and rates of childbirth in wealthy nations would mean declining populations, if it weren’t for immigration. Increasing mean wealth means increasing social support, so that people are not directly dependent upon children for survival; it is also associated with increasing practical and political ability of women to control their own fertility. (I suspect that the gradual demolition of women’s rights to control their own fertility in the US is a significant reason why birthrates are relatively high in the US, compared to other wealthy nations.)

        I think it’s much more reasonable to conclude that the population will stabilize when food distribution is equalized.

        Brian Vaughan

        October 7, 2009 at 01:07

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: